This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
beca’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Midsommar is a visual treat. The colors are the perfect blend of vibrant, summer-y blues, yellows, and greens and contrast well with the various horrors happening throughout the nine day ceremony. The art showcased throughout the film is also pretty amazing, particularly the illustrations/paintings we see hanging in Dani's house at the beginning of the film. The imagery is sort of odd (especially the one in her living room which I could never personally fully figure out) but they feel a lot more controlled and more "American" than the similar in theme but more crudely drawn artwork decorating the traditional Swedish huts used as housing for Midsommar. My favorite piece on display is probably "She kissed the bear on the nose" by John Bauer, which Clementine kindly clued me in to the title of.
The shots in this film are also pretty spectacular. The flipped image of the main characters driving into Sweden is one hell of a visual. I'm not as big of a fan of the constantly "breathing" surroundings when Dani is under the influence of hallucinogens as I feel that the overuse of it became a little cheesy in some scenes, but the effect of Dani's hands and feet becoming one with the grass/wildlife in the same scenes is pretty spectacular.
But, with all of the praise I have for how the film looks, did I actually enjoy it as a whole..? It's hard to say. While I think the basic concept Ari Aster is presenting is sound and I clearly enjoyed its visuals, I'm not a huge fan of how the film plays out from a narrative perspective.
There's a lot of this film that feels like it was solely done for shock value or to up the tension between characters. It's a lot of build-up with very little reward - the worst offender being the film's opening.
I have trouble reconciling with the fact that the inciting incident causing Dani to go to Sweden is her bipolar sister's murder-suicide that resulted in the death of both Dani's sister and both of their parents. The harping on the fact that her sister is mentally ill and does "this sort of thing" (send worrying messages and then doesn't respond) often doesn't sit right with me, nor does the extended conversation between Christian and his friends about how Dani is "abusive" for looking to her boyfriend for support when these things happen. Sure, it's clear that this conversation is supposed to set the stage for the fact that Christian and his friends are pricks and they all eventually get their comeuppance for it but ..Dani is never even clued in to this conversation or these feelings they have about her? Also, this isn't the direct fault of the movie I suppose, but multiple people in my theater laughed at how much of a "clingy" girlfriend Dani was.
The murder-suicide is brought up visually twice more in the film, but the implications are unclear. Comparing it visually to the ritual sacrifice suicides seems strange, especially since we're to assume that the parents didn't want to die. The only known connection is that the people took their own lives, but from a cultural and situational standpoint I don't think the two are comparable. The event is never really utilized as a strong connection between Dani's home life and her fate in Sweden and so it ultimately feels like it was just thought up as a "shocking" vehicle to get Dani on the trip. Which honestly reads badly given the situation's negative connotations about mentally ill people.
Going back to the fact that Dani isn't aware of the outright mocking of her fear and grief with regard to her family situation, I feel that her complete lack of knowledge surrounding some of the film's events makes the ending feel undeserved and somewhat out of character.
In America we see one conflict between her and Christian about his going to Sweden. She's understandably upset about the fact that his noncommittal mention of wanting to visit the country turned into him already having tickets to go to Midsommar with his buddies in a short number of days, but she's surprisingly level-headed with how she deals with it. By the end of the conversation we can assume they've "come to an agreement or, at the very least, she's given in to the fact that he thinks he's in the right. Either way, the issue seems resolved by the fact that she is invited to come with.
While in Sweden, there seems to be more growing animosity between the pair. Dani still doesn't know what Christian and his friends say about her behind her back and the things their Swedish mutual friend says to her to instill a rift between them are very vague. "He doesn't feel like family" is something worthy of sitting on and breaking up with a guy for, but..knowingly sending him to his death?
It's hard to feel catharsis or to even enjoy the ending moment of Dani smiling as her boyfriend burns because she doesn't even know some of the worst things he's said and done. She sees him having sex with another woman through a keyhole and the film presents it in a way that this is her "tipping point" but, logically, this sex includes a group of chanting naked women including one that's physically forcing Christian to keep thrusting. She KNOWS that she was personally drugged for the ceremony and has to have some inclination from the past rituals that this community can mentally manipulate people into doing horrific things for the sake of tradition. It's extremely understandable that she gets upset about seeing the scene and that she runs off to sob and scream about it but in the ensuing hours she should have come to the realization that this wasn't entirely a scene in which Christian was in control. Moreover, when she next sees him he's completely incapacitated. He's wrapped up in a wheelchair and let known that he can't move or speak. We can feel glad as the viewer, knowing more than her about his true colors, but how can she see that image of him and not realize that the community is actively using him?
Completely unrelated to this whole train of thought, but I also didn't understand the inclusion of the warring theses. What's the point of adding on another dick move of Christian's that Dani isn't clued into? What's the point of setting up a conflict that can't be resolved because one of the party is killed shortly after the conflict comes up? At most, Christian's insistence that Josh "isn't his friend" if he ended up stealing the ritual documents looks bad on him, but this same scene could have played out about Mark peeing on the ancestral tree - and likely would have made more sense.
I don't know, man. I really wanted to enjoy this because visually it's everything I love, but..the actual story just doesn't do it for me. Although my pros and cons were different for it than they are for Midsommar I felt similarly about Hereditary. Conceptually, Aster makes films I want to feel positive about because even the more derivative scenes feel freshly reimagined and the acting in both films is superb, but overall I just feel "eeeehhhhh...?"